UTAH (ABC4) – While states across the country face a teacher shortage, Utah may be doing well in comparison. Weber State University is working to keep schools across six districts in northern Utah fully staffed. It is one of many programs across the state that aims “grow their own” teachers.  

The Teacher Assistant Pathway to Teaching program, also known as TAPT, helps paraprofessionals already working in local school districts become certified teachers. The program began nearly 30 years ago at the request of six school districts in northern Utah that were in critical need of teachers. Now, the program has upwards of 40 participants at any given time and may be just as important today, if not more so, than during its conception.  

“I was working, and I was a mom, and I was going to school,” Lea Flinders told ABC4. This week marks Flinders’ first as a certified teacher. She now teaches fourth grade.  

Four years ago, Flinders was working as paraprofessional at Box Elder School District when her supervisor approached her. “She wrote it down on a sticky note and said, ‘This is your graduation year if you decide to go back and that date’s going to come and go whether or not you go back to school, so you may as well go.’” she remembered.  

The district is one of the six districts that participate in TAPT. 

 Soon after her supervisor approached her about becoming a certified teacher, something Flinders always wanted to do, the working mom got a scholarship (through TAPT), went back to school and in the spring of 2022 became a certified teacher. She is teaching in the district where she started as a paraprofessional. She plans to stay with the district for the long haul.  

“Our graduates at the TAPT program, over 95 percent of them stay in schools,” Dr. Kristin Hadley told ABC4. Dr. Hadley is the dean at WSU’s Jerry and Vickie Moyes College of Education.   

TAPT, like other similar programs in Utah, is a grow-your-own program that trains teachers from Utah who then stay in Utah, so having 95 percent of graduates commit to education as a life-long career is a big deal. Dr. Hadley adds, “Which is an amazing statistic considering 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years.”  

Dr. Hadley told ABC4 that part of the reason the program works so well is because it focuses on people who already have a connection to the community they live in and the students in their local school district. It also helps that the teachers certified through the program have real-world experience in schools before entering the workforce. Some even have years of experience thanks to their work as paraprofessionals. “They know the challenges they’re going to face, so when as a teacher those challenges come up, they’re not surprised,” Dr. Hadley stated.  

For those who chose to go back to school to chase their dream career in education, their circumstances (like work, raising kids, finances) may make the journey difficult. However, Flinders told ABC4 that it’s all worth it. “Our trials make us stronger and it’s kind of the refiner’s fire that turns that piece of gold into a diamond,” she stated.  

According to Dr. Hadley, more than 28,000 Utah students have had TAPT teachers. The program is funded through the Utah State Board of Education as well as private donors. To learn more about the program and who qualifies, click here.  

ABC4 is checking in with Utah’s school districts as the new school year unfolds. In northern Utah, no districts are reporting a teacher shortage currently.